Good Will Hunting: MMAmania interview exclusive with UFC 135's Ben Rothwell

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When many fighters get injured, they exacerbate their situations by also falling terribly out of shape while sidelined.

Not Ben Rothwell.

"Big Ben" saw his long layoff to heal from an ACL tear as a tremendous opportunity to completely reinvent himself. He's completely renovated his diet, moved permanently to train in Wisconsin with a trio of incredibly diverse coaches and has put a focus on becoming the well-rounded fighter he's always wanted to be.

Needless to say, the man who won 13 fights in a row from 2005 to 2007 including a 9-0 stint in the IFL expects to be back and better than ever when he steps into the Octagon against former K-1 World Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt this Saturday night (September 24, 2011) at UFC 135 in Denver.

Rothwell spoke with MMAmania.com about reinventing himself, what makes his coaches at Roufusport so special and the lessons he took from his career's biggest loss.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How's the knee feeling? You tore the ACL in the first round of your last fight with Gilbert Yvel at UFC 115. 

Ben Rothwell: I'm 100 percent right now. It's not even something that I'm even thinking about. I know it's the first topic of conversation because it's why I've been out for a year but I'm great. I'm really happy to come back. I know that some guys come back from injury out of shape or things like that but I really took the time to improve everything just like I promised I would. That's the goal next Saturday, to live up to what I told everybody and I feel very confident in doing so.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since late 2008, I know injuries and scheduling conflicts have been a big part of this but you've only been able to fight about one time a year. Now that you're healthy, how often would you like to be able to get in there and fight?

Ben Rothwell: I hope with each win I can get about three fights in a year. If four works, four is good but three would be perfect. From September 2006 to September 2007, I fought eight times. So one year I fought eight times. In 2002, I fought 11 times and now coming up to this September fight, it's four fights in four years so I've done both. I've fought too much and not enough. Ideally for me, three or four a year would be perfect.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were talking about, in the preparation for this fight, you've made a lot of "necessary changes." I'm sure that showing up in terrific shape was one of them but was there anything else as well that you've really been focusing on?

Ben Rothwell: I'm lucky that when I started, I knew the value of needing to learn everything like becoming a good wrestler and having a good ground game. I feel that I've upped that by getting together with a solid group of guys. I have Duke Roufus' striking, Ben Askren's wrestling and Luiz Claudio is my ground coach who might not be well-known right now but he's Rickson Gracie's second black belt. He's awesome and I'm really happy to have them as my coaches. Along with that I've got some incredible training partners. I'm in a great place as far as being in the Midwest and I don't think I could have anything better than what I've got.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I also heard you changed up your diet. Can you talk about that?

Ben Rothwell: My wife is my chef and she's really big on not just organics but staying away from dairy and it's something that I just used to consume mass amounts of. Now I've completely cut a lot of that stuff out of my diet. I didn't used to eat many vegetables but now they make up a considerable portion of my meals throughout the day. It's completely different. It's a drastic change and I can see that people say I look a lot leaner now because of the changes and I want to keep doing this and look even better with each fight. That's what I'm most excited for. I want to put some wins in and every time I step in the cage I want people to think, "Wow, he just keeps getting better!" I really believe that's gonna happen.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't want to bring back bad memories or cause you to relapse but is there a particular food that you miss the most that you had to give up?

Ben Rothwell: Not really. Honestly, I changed my way of thinking and I've been really enjoying eating things I never ate before because they make me feel so good when I'm training. I train so much more than I used to. I train all the time now like I supposed to and I enjoy it. Instead of being painful hard work, I'm actually enjoying it. The food, your diet really impacts that. I really value eating good, whole food. There's so much processed food and so much crap around, eating stuff out of a garden isn't easy nowadays. When you do it, my performance just from that drastically changed. I'm not missing anything. In fact, I'm excited to keep expanding on these new things I'm trying out and improving my diet even more.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of those guys that tries new things, you mentioned him earlier, is Duke Roufus. He really burst onto the scene after that Anthony Pettis "Showtime Kick." He's really gained a reputation for trying new things, experimenting and getting the best out of his fighters. Can you talk about training with him now and what makes him so special?

Ben Rothwell: Duke and his family have been involved in kickboxing, he's been a martial artist for over 30 years now. He's been doing this a long time. He got burnt out from just doing so much just boxing, kickboxing and dealing with Japan, things like that. When MMA started, it revitalized him to where he does jiu-jitsu now and he likes wrestling. That's something you don't see out of a lot of stand-up coaches either. He really embraces the whole realm of MMA and you see him become a student again yet at the same time, he's like a grandmaster in the realm of striking. It's very unique to be around him because he's always welcome to trying new things, he's very open-minded. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You talked about Ben Askren. I know wrestling has been a big focus for you recently. Can you talk about how Ben Askren has been able to help you in the wrestling department?

Ben Rothwell: His wrestling style just really suits me. I was in Iowa for several years with Pat Miletich and there was a lot of Iowa wrestlers and they have a style that's like two rams butting heads. They just come at you very aggressive with a clashing style. Ben Askren is more like a matador. As the bull runs at him, he just "olays" right out of the way and it's hilarious how someone can have a double leg on him, they'll pick him up, slam him and he's got their back. You're just like, "Wow!" while watching him.

He has this very flowing style, his style is actually called 'The Funk.' He goes by the name 'Funky' because he's unique, he's different and it's a very open-minded wrestling style. There's tons of technique and I always feel technique will prevail over speed and strength and when you have technique plus speed and strength, that's where you become the baddest mofo on the planet. I have the strength and speed already and I'm combining it with his technique from all around now. Ben is definitely the missing key in my wrestling department because I'm not just using brute strength anymore, I'm adding technique and getting great results.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That wrestling is something that could come in real handy against your upcoming opponent Mark Hunt. He had a big win in his last fight. Can you talk about what it's like going in there against a Pride and kickboxing legend?

Ben Rothwell: As far as Mark Hunt goes, he's someone I've watched a long time. As a fan, I respect and enjoyed watching him in the past. As my opponent, I have no respect for his one-sided game. There's three aspects of this game and him only having one of them is not doing anything for him. Even in the striking realm, he's shown to have more difficulty with taller fighters that have reach and I've really worked on my distance and utilizing my reach. I don't care where the fight's at really. I'm confident in all aspects of the fight and I'm just ready to go and put an exciting fight on.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In his last fight, Chris Tuchscherer, a guy more known for taking people down and beating them up on the ground, he chose to stand and trade with him.

Ben Rothwell: Yeah and his takedowns didn't look like takedowns. They were horrible, they were garbage. He did get a takedown towards the end of the first round and he literally laid there and rested for two minutes. He allowed Hunt to rest two minutes, they broke them up, he got another minute of rest in between rounds and then he knocked him out at the beginning of the second round. 

I'll be the first one to say that bad gameplans can happen. My fight against Cain was the result of a horrible gameplan and poor preparation. It happens sometimes. A guy like Tuchscherer can maybe look back on it and make some corrections to his game. Maybe the trip to Australia got to him. It's MMA and that's the way it is sometimes. It's all about learning experience, to see if guys can come back and learn something from it. I definitely learn from my mistakes.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well what was something that you really took from that fight with Cain then if I may ask?

Ben Rothwell: Well, one is that I'm a big guy on karma. I try to be neutral, subtle about my pre-fight stuff, what I say. For that fight, I feel like I got coaxed into sounding like a badass or a bad guy talking smack. I hate doing that so first of all, I had that going against me. Second, preparation. Quite honestly, the preparation was horrible for that fight. Poor camp, poor training. That guy is legit. If he's not proven to be the best heavyweight, he's certainly one of the best heavyweights and I did not do what was necessary to win the fight that night.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had this fight in your mind since June when it was first announced so it's been a while now. Now that you've been focusing on this for three straight months and you've been training yourself to the best of your ability, how do you see yourself getting a win on Saturday?

Ben Rothwell: It's one of those things, I'm superstitious about what I say and I personally always have been. They say, "Karma's a bitch in this sport," but I'm gonna tell you that I have trained for three hard, grueling rounds. I've really trained for the hardest thing ever and because of that, I'm very confident I'm gonna end it in the first round.

Ben would like to thank his coaches Duke Roufus, Ben Askren and Luiz Claudio, Jason House of Iridium Sports and his manager Monte Cox. You can follow him on twitter @RothwellFighter.

So what do you think Maniacs?

Will this new and improved "Ben Rothwell 2.0" come in and smash Mark Hunt on Saturday night? What are you expecting from "The North Star" after 15 months away from the Octagon?

Speak up!

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